Diabetes and Caregiver Burnout: 7 Tips to Help You Cope

Written by Susan McQuillan, MS, RDN, CDN

Whether you choose it or not, you could easily find yourself in the role of caregiver to an adult relative or friend with diabetes, especially if that person develops complications of diabetes or has multiple medical conditions.

The job can be overwhelming, and even more so if you work full-time, care for others or have other pressing responsibilities in your life. Know that you are not alone and that there are helpful resources available that can improve your wellbeing.

As in any serious situation when you are responding to someone else’s needs, you must take care of yourself first, or you won’t be in any shape to care for someone who needs your help. Don’t wait until things get out of hand. Have a plan in place that includes some, if not all, of the following steps to ensure that the physical, emotional, and sometimes the financial stress of caregiving doesn’t get the best of you.

#1. Eat right and get enough sleep.

It may seem obvious but eating well and receiving a sufficient amount of sleep are the cornerstones of maintaining your health and energy levels. Lack of sleep can cloud your mind and contribute to feelings of stress. Plan meals, snacks, and even weekly menus in advance, and make shopping lists from these menu plans, so there are always nutritious foods on hand.

Meals that are diabetes-friendly are also good for other family members, so you don’t have to be a short-order cook providing different meals for different people. If you need some new ideas, you can sign up here to subscribe to a monthly American Diabetes Association newsletter that provides meal plans, recipes, and healthy eating tips. You can also find diabetes-friendly recipes in our own recipe section.

#2. Make time for exercise.

Stay fit. Walk, run, play tennis, take pilates, yoga or aerobics classes, or do any other type of exercise most days of the week. Regular exercise will help keep you mentally and physically strong and even short bursts of exercise are better than nothing. Search online for exercise tips and videos designed for working out when you’re short on time. You can also find easy ways to exercise here. 

#3. Look to others for assistance.

Even if you’ve taken on full-time caregiving, you don’t have to be the only helper. Arrange a family meeting to establish the needs and figure out who can help and how. Seek out friends and relatives with specific skills that can contribute to care. For instance, a friend who likes to cook is the best person to help out by preparing some meals. A family member who is very organized might be the best person to make medical appointments and follow-up with reminders. Those who drive can help provide transportation and do some food shopping.

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#4. Build a professional care network.

Stay in touch with healthcare practitioners and others who are familiar with complications of diabetes and who can offer medical help and practical advice about the disease. They are your links to in-home assistance, outside care and activities for the patient, and out-of-home care, if it becomes necessary. If necessary, speak to the patient’s healthcare provider about any burdens you face as the caregiver to see if they can provide assistance in the form of advice or referrals.

#5. Seek counsel.

If you are giving a lot of your time to someone else, you’re bound to feel frustrated, helpless and even angry, at times. Have a support system in place, whether it’s a friend who is going through the same thing, a counselor, a religious figure, or anyone else you know who allows you to vent your feelings and can possibly suggest new ways to cope. Check out caregiver.com—a wonderful resource and a way to connect with others online who  

#6. Recognize the signs of burnout.

Sometimes we get so involved with the daily demands of caregiving that we fail to notice the signs of the stress building up in our minds and bodies. Signs of burnout include becoming socially isolated (withdrawing from activities formerly enjoyed), getting sick frequently, and feeling impatient with loved ones.

Check out the many helpful resources available through the Caregiver Action Network (CAN). CAN is the nation’s leading family caregiver organization and was established to improve the quality of life for the more than 90 million Americans who care for loved ones with chronic conditions, disabilities, disease, or the frailties of old age. The site also has a community board where you can post questions and received feedback from experts and fellow caregivers. 

#7. Take a break!
Like anyone with a job, you need vacations, including mini-vacations from time to time. Plan your time off in advance so that you know it will happen. Most importantly, have a backup plan in place for times when you are not feeling well yourself.

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